For some reason, human beings need three examples to believe in a proposition, so here are three reasons to think that the partisan gridlock that paralyzed Congress for the past several years is beginning to ease.
1. The prospects for passing a major overhaul of immigration laws remains high. The media fetishizes the role of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, positing that somehow, if Rubio bolts or begs off from the task, immigration reform is dead. I think pundits are confusing Republicans rallying around Rubio as a personality who will be a viable presidential candidate with the much different optics and effects of passing an immigration bill. On the news, you might hear something like: "Marco Rubio was seen frowning today, and so immigration reform looks dead." The next day, Republican and Democratic senators unveil part of their immigration reform bill.
2. With the exception, perhaps of the American people, everyone got something from the budget morass. Obama and Democrats got revenue (in December); John Boehner got the confidence of his members (by, essentially, forcing the sequester to request); Republicans get the chance to say to Americans, "See, cutting revenue isn't that painful [note: we will see] — and hey, we beat Obama!). Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the government for a bit. Actual budgets are being written and debated this year. There's no urgency to win for the sake of winning. That makes compromise on some things more likely. Tensions between the parties are not as high as they were.
3. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is working with Democrats on a background check compromise; some Republican senators in particular seem to be aware that they're up for re-election in 2014, and voters might demand evidence of their willingness to work and solve problems. In the House, Democratic freshman Krysten Sinema has made many Republicans friends and influenced several to vote to extend the Violence Against Women Act. President Obama has actually gotten into a groove, and seems to be less harrumphy about meeting with Republicans. His Medicare cut proposal was serious and, despite instinctual Republican dismissals, could help break the coming impasse over the debt ceiling again.
Ok, a fourth: The chances for legislation on cyber-security are higher than last year.
Washington still sounds the same, but it seems to be acting a little differently.